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Israel Negotiates With Hamas in Tel Aviv

PA sources say a Hamas official made a secret trip to Tel Aviv last week to discuss the border crossings into Gaza.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 8/1/2007, 11:10 AM

Sources described as "reliable" have been quoted by the Palestinian Authority news agency Quds Press saying a Hamas official made a secret trip to Tel Aviv last week to discuss the border crossings into Gaza. The reports say that just over a week ago, Abd al-Salah, who oversees economic affairs in the office of Hamas Authority prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, came secretly to Tel Aviv to meet with economic officials.

Al-Salah arrived with a proposal to transfer control of the Gaza crossings to private Palestinian Authority hands, under European supervision.  He also raised the issue of the economic dependence of Gaza upon Israel.

The sources emphasized that the meeting was approved by both Israel and Hamas.  Israel has said that it would not negotiate with or recognize Hamas, which calls for the destruction of all of Israel and its total replacement by an Arab state.  Hamas, on the other hand, never ruled out talks with Israel on day-to-day issues in order to promote Hamas interests.

In other Hamas news, Russia and Hamas appear to disagree regarding their diplomatic relations.  Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister said on Tuesday that his country would reduce the level of its contacts with Hamas.  On Wednesday, however, a Hamas parliament member said that exiled Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, and other Hamas officials, have been invited to Moscow for an official visit. 

Meanwhile, visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is about to begin her meetings with Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials. Following her meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh with Gulf state leaders, she said that Hamas must get used to the idea of "two states," i.e., a PA state alongside Israel. 

It was originally reported that Secretary Rice feels such a PA state can be formed even before Fatah and Hamas reunite.  However, what she in fact said was, "We hope that at some point in time, when the two-state solution arrives, it will be a uniting force for all the Palestinians who want a state, and it will be a point of time at which people will have to choose if they are out of that consensus."

Rice is expected to meet in Israel with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and, later, President Shimon Peres. On Thursday, Rice will meet in Ramallah with Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.  Her trip, together with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, has been described as a "maintenance visit."  She was last here four months ago.